Here are some rough notes I made within the first minute of the pilot.
All said with satirical, unbridled enthusiasm:
Walking with balloons: “I feel French!”
Going down a playground slide: “I’m a silly goose egg!”
Lyrics from the song in the background: “ooh, sassafras lady!”
Skipping out of a restaurant after sharing a spaghetti meal with a bike wheel: “Haha! No time to pay!”
Said seductively over the opening credits: “Have you ever been… to Detroit?”
The series was created by Mitch Hurwitz and Pam Brady. It’s a lovechild of weirdness. Hurwitz created Arrested Development, and Pam Brady primarily works with Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the men behind South Park. The woman delivering the lines above is actress-comedian Maria Bamford. The series is “loosely based” on her life. I should hope very loosely.
Those notes I took make a little more sense when you find out Bamford’s character, a fictionalized version of herself, is daydreaming as she… shops… outside a crappy grocery store? She then addresses the camera, addresses us… and introduces herself… and then her friend says it’s time to start the show? What show, you wonder. Well, it’s this show, Lady Dynamite, the show you’re currently watching, the show confusing you.
The way nothing makes sense in the cold open is the right way to usher us into the style of comedy the show gloriously executes.
The premise of the show is this: The fictional Maria Bamford has just returned from a stint in a psych ward after she was diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, and she’d like to calm things down. When her manager, Bruce Ben-Bacharach (Fred Melamed), suggests she do a TV series, or a movie, or a stand-up world tour, she says no. She’d maybe do some stand-up in the back of a bookstore. She also meets with a famous agent Karen Grisham (Ana Gasteyer). Grisham explains she met with Bamford not because she wants to be her agent, but because she wants to be her friend. It’s an absurd scene that ends with Grisham gifting Bamford with a Vespa, despite the fact that Bamford came to the meeting in a car.
The real life Maria Bamford struggles to get this show, the show you’re watching, Lady Dynamite, off the ground. Her friends keep telling her how to do it (what she should include from her life, the colour scheme, the guest appearances). Sometimes we cut from the fictional Maria Bamford storyline mid-scene and we start to see production equipment, and the actors talk as themselves about the scene that was just happening (an example is in the “Some Bits I Liked” section below). We learn all of fictional Maria Bamford’s backstory through expositional dialogue and flashbacks to the past, where Bamford was still in the psych ward and living with her parents, Joel and Marilyn Bamford.
The fictional Bamford’s first goal is small. She wants to create a bench outside her house for her neighbours to use. She’s new to the area. She introduces herself. Most of the neighbours tell her to go fuck herself. Bruce the manager then helps her create a block party so that she at least has a new project, but an issue arises in her plan. The real Patton Oswalt (who plays a cop in the show) warns her: do not perform stand-up on your show. It’s been done a million times on better shows. She needs to set herself apart otherwise Lady Dynamite won’t be successful. Her original plan was for the fictional Bamford to perform stand-up at the block party, but now she worries she can’t because then “Patton Oswalt will ban me from the alt-comedy community!”
Ultimately, we learn a lot about the real and the fictional Maria Bamford, and we start to understand what the show might look like as the season progresses, all the while having no actual idea what will happen.
The entire season has been uploaded on Netflix, but I wanted to review every episode, mostly to relish in how great it is.
Note: For people who don’t like surrealism or meta comedy, stay way, way, way away.
Some Bits I Liked:
- “Could it be ‘less’ ambitious. Maybe ‘not’ ambitious.”
- The Sex and the City-esque style the background music takes on when the show is mentioned by Bruce
- As someone passes Maria’s bench deep in the background: “What’s with the fuckin’ new bench!?”
- When Patton Oswalt breaks character mid-scene (we see the camera equipment and all) and asks Maria if she’s really gonna put stand up in the show. Another actor comes over and asks: “I’m sorry are you the comedy police?” Oswalt: “No I’m just a friend” Friend: “Well you’re also an actor so just say your lines monkey.”
- All the Breaking Bad stuff
- “Here ya go, and don’t thank me. I’m a stranger.”
- As she rides away on a gifted Vespa “I have a car!?”
- Every Karen Grisham line! Hah hah hah!!
- The name on the side car attached to the Vespa: “Chum Bucket”
- The completely unnecessary use of green screen and explosions.
- “Yes, two Pelicans with one Miyata!”
- “Maria, there are not enough Oscars for everyone as we learn every year.”
- At one point, Maria is a lamb. At another, she is a little girl version of herself, the latter a clever kind of exposition.
- “Well I gotta see a man about a burrito.”
- Snapshots of Bruce’s death
- John Mulaney dressed as… An American Revolution soldier? In the credits he’s listed as James Earl James
- “Be funnier!” “You really should try and be funnier.”
- The microphone is also a gun.
- “Guys! It’s Patton! He can do comedy! He can do comedy because it’s not his show!”
- SO many pictures of Andy Kindler in Bruce’s office?